Mobile: What your customers are using

Having a mobile strategy in place is important to restaurant operators who are looking for new ways to connect with their guests.

Knowing the ins and outs of mobile technologies is crucial as consumers become more tethered to their smartphones. Cisco predicts there will be 788 million smartphone-only Web browsers by 2015.

"Your customers are looking for something that is better, easier, faster and reliable – a mobile strategy that enhances their guest experience," said Sarah McCrary, director at Heartland. She was one of three panelists in a session titled "Why Mobile Matters" at the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago last week, along with Mike Handy, president of GoWaiter.com, Chris Demery, VP-IT of OSI Restaurants.

The digital approach should be robust – entailing loyalty/rewards, online ordering, order tracking, easy menu management, order history, payment history and more, according to Handy.

"These are the biggest trends right now in the restaurant delivery marketplace," he said.

GoWaiter has also predicted future technology trends in this space, which include:

  • Driver tablets;
  • API (application programming interface) to send orders directly to the POS system;
  • API to update menus automatically online;
  • More upselling and suggestive selling features;
  • Family meal planning features; and
  • Office/group meal planning features, among others.

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Strategies different across segments

Demery's perspective on mobile/online initiatives is different, since OSI Restaurants' portfolio includes casual and fine dining brands such as Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba's Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill, Fleming's and Roy's.

The company has multiple mobile pilots taking place right now, including having customers sign in when they arrive and then texting them when their tables are ready, as opposed to using a paging device.

"We also have an initiative underway for mobile at the tables that is centered on customer privacy, where the server takes the order and the customer can swipe their card on a Skypad device, which is like an iPad. This method has helped increase tips and table turns, and has been a very successful pilot for us," Demery said.

He added that mobile is very much about the user experience. The big concern at his company is making sure each restaurant's POS system is compatible and PCI compliant.

Other concerns include making sure servers know how to use the devices, and having a solid plan in place for necessary maintenance or upgrades.

"Restaurateurs are typically not techie people, nor do they have time to be, so they need to make sure they have an immediate plan in place if something happens," Demery said.

Another test some brands are playing with right now is having customers give waiters their phones for the 4 to 6 minutes it takes to make the payment transaction. This is a tricky proposal, however.

"Customers don't want to give up their smartphones to waiters. We have to figure out that piece when we talk about giving them a true mobile experience," Demery said.

McCrary added that QR code technology may be the solution since consumers' smartphones wouldn't have to leave their sight.

Finally, the panel discounted worries about diminished customer service with the increased use of mobile/tablets at restaurants.

"Even if most of the orders and payments are done by the customers themselves, there will still be occasions where the server will assist them. The server will also come out and upsell throughout the meal," Demery said. "Mobile isn't about the elimination of customer service, but rather the optimization."

Read more about mobile initiatives.

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